Amazon still best option for textbooks

With a new semester underway, a perennial question comes to mind: What is the best way to purchase textbooks?

The number of options can be overwhelming. The bookstore offers every book you need for a course, but there are new books, used books and rentals, plus outside options like, Barnes & Noble and rental sites like

Rentals are often the cheapest, and going that route can be tempting. Students will find that buying books online is the optimal solution in the long run, however.

Purchasing a textbook is a better use of money than renting. I always purchase textbooks online, except for when I have to buy the USC published titles, it’s easy for me to find a title online with the same quality and at a much lower price than in the bookstore. For example, a used novel on Amazon can cost less than $5, compared to one with a $20-$30 sticker in the bookstore.

Besides the low prices, the Amazon marketplace helps its customers make smart choices by providing detailed information for the books, such as a description, seller’s rating and feedback from other customers.

Renting textbooks might seem like an attractive option. Some rental companies try hard to minimize the differences between rented and owned books. Websites like advertise that you can “save hundreds of dollars by renting books,” while allows students to highlight and take notes on their books for free.

The USC bookstore provides an online textbook rental service, which directly links to Although companies try to give students more benefits, I would rather own a book without concern for additional charges for inappropriate use of the book.

These days, though, textbooks are facing some competition. E-books have become an attractive alternative, particularly with the introduction of the iPad. Admittedly, e-books are lighter, greener and sometimes cheaper. They also allow you to take as many notes as you want.

Last fall, USA Today reported that students at the Stanford School of Medicine who were given iPads found it easier to take notes and draw diagrams with the attached stylus pens than with their laptops. But purchasing e-books does bring several concerns including limited titles and high initial investment on e-books devices.

E-books users will also be able to recoup any of their costs by selling an unwanted title they have finished, as you could with a physical book, and they can’t buy used copies at significant discounts. If you order books on Amazon, you can still sell them back to the USC bookstore and make a few dollars at the end of the semester.

Amazon is the best mainstream choice to get your books without breaking the bank. But if you want to get creative,  the best way to get your textbooks for the semester is taking the initiative and organizing a trading system with students in your residential hall or apartment building. Students did just that to create Parkside’s Book Buddy program, where residents who don’t have the patience to sell their books online simply exchange books with each other.

Are we in the process of making a “net bookstore” that dominates the current system — the overpriced USC bookstore? Perhaps, but it requires overwhelming participation from the student body, a system that is good in theory but difficult to implement.

Emily Wang is a freshman majoring in business administration.

8 replies
  1. ThinkingThoughtfully
    ThinkingThoughtfully says:

    I suppose you can buy all your books, but my motto is, “if there is a cheaper/more efficient alternative — why not utilize it for your benefit?” I’ll always buy my favorite books, but why buy something new (that I may not possibly like) when I can read it first for free at the library? If I have a car, why live in expensive university housing when the neighborhood up the street is clean, safe, and cheaper?

    For novels and older editions of texts I say online bookstores are a fine start. But newer texts that I won’t ever touch again after a semester or two? I do the comparison every year and renting always seems to win. The Amazon Marketplace included. Why? like novels, I do keep a few favorites, but the majority of texts are just wasting space and the buyback prices are horrific. It’s so much simpler to just rent the book, use it, and then send it back.

    Now of course, I was never a book highlighter – we couldn’t ‘abuse’ the texts in such a way back in primary and secondary school, so flashcards and handwritten notes have always been my preference – so worries of ruining a book to the extent that I’d have to pay extra has never crossed my mind. And the due dates are always reasonable, (and up until now, you could adjust it to your liking on chegg) so sending it back late is another fear I haven’t had to worry about. And furthermore, you’d have to drop your book in the toilet a couple times and then return it a week or two after the due date to be charged extra. They’re generally very lenient.

    Now I love Amazon more than the next person. It is usually my first choice because of the student-free prime deal, and their incredibly fast shipping. However, with buying textbooks, it drifts down into the 3rd or 4th positions as my go-to store. But that’s just me. Some people really enjoy owning everything they have. I’m content with having my cake and eating it too.

  2. David
    David says:

    Supply & Demand. All of my textbooks were cheaper “new” on Amazon than they were “used” at the bookstore for this semester.

  3. E Kim
    E Kim says:

    To the naysayers aka “Mr. Schmidt antagonists”:

    I did a thorough PPM for my FBE entrepreneurial class that delved into the college textbook industry, and this was last year. I dubbed it “Rent-a-Book” and it’s essentially a textbook rental service. Unfortunately, Chegg and a few other industry “first movers” already hit this market, and usually it’s difficult to play catch up. Anyways, college bookstores aren’t the egregious, profit-grubbing entities that you naysayers believe to be. Yes, the textbook prices are noticeably higher relative to online entities. However, it’s true that a bulk of the profits from college stores are reinvested into the school’s other programs, such as athletic teams and other things that make attending college cheaper. College bookstores do not act like private businesses; the profits are “break even” if not anemic, and used for the betterment of the school. USC, with its stellar football program (well, maybe not these past couple years), greatly benefits from the bookstore profits. Those uniforms/gear and other logistical needs don’t fall on the football players’ laps out of thin air.

    You people, Trojans especially, are very smart people. You are tech-savvy, but act like the bookstore victimizes you. If you want to buy/rent from a cheaper online source, so be it. To each his/her own.

  4. USC Student
    USC Student says:

    @ Charles Schmidt,

    Your response to the author of this article is quite interesting in terms of the statistics you present, but there are several things I like to quickly address:

    1. If you are referring to books sold directly from Amazon, then about 20% of the time, I have found the price of a book is the same at the bookstore, but many students buy used books and Amazon’s marketplace book prices are 2-3x cheaper than what is offered at a bookstore. Furthermore, one might say the bookstore may have used copies, but I have found it difficult to purchase a used copy due to limited quantities. Furthermore, your statistics regarding amazon’s price differences is solely based on new books, which doesn’t offer much strength to your argument since used copies are preferred by college students and when you put used books’ prices into play, then the price drop is quite big.

    2. This may sound quite selfish of me but frankly, if a legitimate business (online or not) offers the ability to purchase a textbook/book at a lower cost, then I will undoubtedly purchase my book from there. I really don’t care if my purchase doesn’t benefit the economy or not. I have to find ways to save money and help take the pressure off of my parents and I’m sure many other college students share the same sentiments.

    3. To me, your lower half of your response makes me feel that you don’t support online businesses like ebay or craigslist which is fine, but sometimes it all comes down to saving money one way or another. In the end, you are a PR director for the NACS so you have to promote the sentiments of your organization which is fine also.

    4. Thank you for your response. I appreciate being enlightened on the matter from a different perspective.

  5. Daniel
    Daniel says:

    I think that to say one textbook option is ALWAYS better than another is not true; sometimes it’s much better to buy, sometimes it’s much better to rent textbooks. The key is comparison shopping.

  6. Reggie
    Reggie says:

    I’m with miss Wang and E on this one. There was a time when campus bookstores were the best places for students to shop. That was ing time ago. I’ll disclose also – as a professor, I’ve been finding better shopping alternatves for my students for decades. The return to the schools is apallingly low considering the revenues.

  7. E
    E says:

    Sorry Charles,

    Anyone actually associated with USC knows how hilariously jacked up the prices are at the book store.

    Good try.

  8. Charles Schmidt
    Charles Schmidt says:

    Dear Ms. Wang,
    Wow, that’s quite a crush you have on Amazon. Makes one wonder what would prompt such devotion. Especially to cause a busy student like yourself to sit down and take the time to write such a lengthy letter singing the praises of a corporation that you have no connection to.

    I also commend you on your research. For a freshman business major, you have an uncommonly detailed knowledge of the complex textbook market and the many options available. It must have taken quite some time to get up to speed on all that.

    I realze this is an opinion piece, and I have no quarrel with Amazon, nor any of the options you mention; however, I take exception to your general statement that the college store is always overpriced. You are buying into a common misperception. A Florida study found that college stores were extremely price-competitive. It found that students purchasing new college textbooks online saved an average of only $2.15 per item. In fact, online prices were HIGHER for 27 percent of the textbooks examined by the study.

    Also, did you ever stop to consider how shopping at your college store generates benefits to the local economy? College stores in the U.S. directly employ 150,000 persons, of which approximately 30,000 are students.

    When a student makes a purchase from the campus store, they can be confident that a portion of that price will be returned to the campus through scholarships, paying the salaries of student workers, and supporting student activities. In fact, a 2010 survey found that college stores contribute an average of $223,691 annually to their college campuses.

    A study by the Council of Smaller Enterprises states that for every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $45 stays in the local economy creating jobs and expanding the region’s tax base. The same can’t be said for money spent at the online site of a company based halfway across the country

    Finally, unlike some, I will fully disclose my affiliation so my statements can be clearly judged.
    — Sincerely,
    Charles Schmidt, Dir. of PR
    Nat’l. Assn. of College Stores

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